“I don’t think Manron did it.”
Peter sighed. “I don’t think so either.”
Neal nodded, thinking about who else could have had access to the billionaire’s private vault where the van Eyck had been stored before it was stolen. Peter’s hand wrapped around his wrist distracted him from his thoughts; he gave his friend a questioning look when he realized Peter was pulling away from the car and towards another building.
“My bank’s up ahead. El wanted me to pick up a necklace we store there.”
Neal nodded, gamely following Peter inside, surprised by the sumptuousness of the bank’s interior until he realized it was Metropolitan One, the oldest and most heavily fortified bank in New York City. He wasn’t the least bit surprised that Peter kept his safety deposit box here. Watched as Peter and one of the bankers went through the rigmarole of identification before heading towards the safety deposit vault. He made to follow only to be stopped by Peter’s glare. He smiled charmingly at the banker before turning it on Peter, only his eyes gave him away that his question wasn’t as flippant as it sounded. “Don’t you trust me, Peter?”
Peter rolled his eyes. “With mine and Elizabeth’s stuff, yeah. With other people’s? Not so much.”
Neal grinned, warmth blooming.
Peter rolled his eyes again and pointed a warning finger at him, but let him follow. The Burkes’ box wasn’t very large, but that didn’t mean anything. Some of the most expensive things in the world were tiny. The banker led them to one of the private retrieval rooms. Like the rest of the bank, the room itself was richly appointed: thick rugs, a heavy wooden desk, and even an overstuffed leather chair. Neal locked the door as Peter placed the long, thin metal box on the desk, deftly flipping open the lid. He couldn’t help himself, sidling up behind Peter, barely resting his chin on a strong shoulder to glance down at the papers inside. He was getting overheated, but wanted to be close to the other man.
Peter removed the papers to expose a velvet jewelry roll. Once opened, it revealed several lovely heirloom pieces, as well as a few modern pieces. Peter reached for a ruby pendent on a gold chain.
“I bought this for her for our fifth anniversary.” Peter tilted his head to mock-glare at him, but his body was relaxing back into Neal’s. “I was following you all over Brazil and missed it.”
Neal could only offer a lazy grin, reaching around Peter to cup the necklace. “A very nice apology,” he murmured, nosing Peter’s hair. “Are there any more treasures in here?”
His words couldn’t be misinterpreted as his hands left the necklace to undo and then slid into Peter’s pants. The other man moaned as Neal played with his cock. He couldn’t wait to feel it inside him. Hard and long and just wide enough to cause terrifying anticipation.
Clothes disappeared as mouths feasted upon each other, hands roaming and mapping out treasures along each other’s bodies. Neal delighted in finding hidden places that made Peter gasp into his mouth, made him writhe and wriggle in sensation. Loved the feel of the heavy body pressing him down into deep carpet, uncaring of the rug burns he could feel rising.
“Up on your hands and knees,” Peter ordered, voice rough with sex and lust and domination.
Neal languidly obeyed, giving in, but never giving up his own style. Arched his back and presented his ass as a warm, wet tongue licked its way inside. Lazy smile painted his lips, spreading his legs even more for the wet fingers tracing and teasing their way in. Lazy smile became underpaint to a blissful moan as Peter sank his cock inside, taking him so perfect and transcendent.
Stroke after stroke, Neal rode Peter’s cock while his body became a canvas for Peter’s exploring hands. His nipples pinched to needy, pink tips, his cock caressed into frantic redness. Hands caught and bound, used to drive the lust higher and higher until he fell, screaming and clenching and desperate for more.
“Ready for the next round?” Peter whispered in his ear.
A feral smile slipped across his lips.
Peter woke and immediately knew that something was wrong. He didn’t remember exactly why something was wrong, but things felt wrong. The floor was too hard, the room was too cold, and the thump of Satchmo’s tail was missing. The body in his arms wasn’t quite right either. Warm and cuddly, but too slim, too hard, too tall. He hadn’t felt the deep satiation and utter exhaustion infused in his bones and muscle since his honeymoon.
He inhaled, taking in the scents of money, steel, stale sex and sweat, but underlying all of it was this musky cologne that emanated from the body in his arms. Elizabeth’s perfume was sweet and fruity.
His eyes snapped open.
Took in Neal’s long, beautiful naked body, the scattered contents of the safety deposit box, and the equally scattered about clothing. He knew exactly what had to have happened, but it didn’t stop the self-recrimination.
He had cheated on his wife.
Peter scrambled for his clothes, not even realizing that Neal was awake and watching him.
He yanked on his pants and shirt, checked for his wallet, ID, keys, and gun. Stuffed his tie and socks into his pocket, wanting out of the room as quickly as possible. Naked people and their clothes littered the bank’s lobby. He saw the opened safety boxes and the emptied drawers, but didn’t stop. Didn’t stop until he reached the car, parked only a block away. Coat dumped in the back, he jumped into the driver’s seat and jammed the key in.
He jumped when the passenger side door opened.
“Peter,” Neal murmured, for once not impeccably turned out, but looking nowhere as frantic as Peter felt. “What happened?”
“Cupid’s Arrow,” he managed to spit out, jerking the car into traffic.
Peter could barely look at the other man. “The Cupid’s Arrow gas was created by some scientist to be an aphrodisiac that forces people to have roughly eight hours of sex. If people come into contact with biochemically compatible partners, the nanites in the gas ‘bond’ these people together for life.”
“Bonding?” Thankfully Neal seemed content to keep his questions to one or two words.
“Sex, every seventy-two hours, or the bonded couple dies.” Peter steered the car away from the FBI. There was no way in hell he was going back there today or letting a single one of his co-workers know what happened until he knew for certain. “We have to get tested.”
He felt, more than saw, Neal’s nod. It was like he could feel Neal’s every breath and movement. Thankfully the traffic to John’s practice was light. He knew that he could trust his old friend’s discretion in getting the blood tests done. Stone-jawed explanations and two vials of blood later, he dropped Neal off at June’s. He never said another word to the other man.
Somehow, he miraculously beat his wife home. Mechanically, he took care of Satchmo, but his mind was miles away as he tried to find some way of telling his wife so that she didn’t leave him. She came home too soon, in his mind, since he still had no idea how to tell her.
“Hi, honey, you’re home early.”
He felt like pond scum as she kissed him. “Hi, honey.”
Elizabeth pulled back, a frown marring her beautiful features. “Is something wrong? Did something happen?”
He couldn’t meet her eyes as he led her to the couch, holding onto both of her hands. He stared down at soft, strong, capable hands. He knew she could leave his ass and be perfectly fine. She was a beautiful, independent woman who didn’t need him to succeed in life, let alone survive.
“Peter,” she tugged one hand out of his grasp, using it to tilt his face up towards hers. “Honey, you’re scaring me. What happened?”
He opened his mouth, but her eyes lowered, then narrowed. She touched his neck; Peter flinched at the pressure on his bruised skin. He didn’t need to look to know that was where Neal had bitten him, left his mark on his body. She jerked to her feet, hands yanking at his shirt. On his back, her fingers traced long lines of Neal’s nails, the crescent marks on his shoulders, more bite marks on his arms and chest, the trails of Neal’s kisses and licks still sticky to the touch.
It all came out in a rush.
“I’m sorry, El, I’m so sorry. Neal and I . . . I didn’t mean to . . . it just happened. Wrong place, wrong time. Please forgive me, I’m so sorry. I would have never. No matter what, I would have never, but Neal and I . . .”
“When are you leaving?”
Peter blinked, startled out of his confession to see the devastation on his wife’s face. “What?”
“It makes sense,” Elizabeth murmured, sadness leaching from her voice. “I mean, he can’t leave June’s and I know you, Peter, you’re going to make this as painless as possible for me. Thank you for that.”
“What?” Confusion was strong, because, 1) Elizabeth wasn’t a raging mad woman about her husband having sex with someone else, 2) Elizabeth wasn’t throwing his ass out of the house and calling for a divorce, and 3) it almost sounded like she was giving up. “Elizabeth,” he said, very slowly. “What do you think is happening?”
She blinked at him, tears in her eyes. “You’re leaving me for Neal.”
“What? No!” He jerked away from her, staring and flabbergasted. “Where did you? Why do you?”
Elizabeth blinked again, confusion now all over her face. “Isn’t that what you’re trying to tell me?”
“No!” Peter took a deep breath, starting over. “We were at the bank, getting that necklace you asked for.”
She nodded, sitting back down.
He joined her, taking her hands, thankful when she curled her fingers around his. “It was robbed using Cupid’s Arrow.”
“Oh.” Her expression cleared, then she rolled her eyes. “Peter, do you honestly think I would blame you for something like that?”
There was no right answer for that one, so he did the smart thing and kept his mouth shut.
Thankfully, she didn’t seem to notice or let it slide. “Everyone knows you can’t help what happens when you breathe in the gas. Honey, I would never be angry with you for something like that.”
He could only kiss her for being so damn understanding. It wasn’t unheard of for spouses to blame their loved ones for being affected by the gas, but it was true, actions could not be controlled under the designer bioweapon that had started off as a lark.
When he pulled back, Peter only had one other question. “Why did you think I was leaving you for Neal?”
Elizabeth hitched one shoulder, an interesting, mischievous smile on her lips. “Peter, honey, I don’t know if you’ve notice, but the two of you flirt with each other all of the time.”
“What? No, we don’t!” He couldn’t even imagine where the hell she got that idea!
She gave him a look that said ‘sure you don’t.’
“How was he as a lover?”
“Amazing,” he said before he could even think about the question she’d asked. He stared at her triumphant smile in horror. Eyes widened in alarm as she scooted closer, fingers reaching out to trace the love marks all over his skin.
“I bet you were beautiful together,” she whispered into his ear, fingers teasing and pressing against sex-bruised skin. “I would have loved to have seen the two of you together. His pretty body in your strong arms. That wicked mouth of his wrapped around your cock. Was he tight, Peter?”
He moaned into her mouth, nodding.
She pulled back, sultry smile, sharp with anticipation as unzipped his pants. “As tight as me?”
He could only moan again as Elizabeth pulled up her skirt and slid off her panties. He reached out automatically to steady her as she straddled his hips and impaled herself on his hard cock. Elizabeth arched and gasped in his arms, biting him next to the mark Neal had left on his neck.
“I want. I want to see that,” she panted, sliding up and down, rhythm hard and crazy as she tugged his hand between them, onto her clit where she wanted him. “Want to watch him riding you, sucking you, kissing you. Want to watch you play with his cock.” She raked her nails down his chest, catching still sensitive nipples, making him thrust into her harder. “Peter, Peter,” she breathlessly demanded, pulling his head and eyes to her lust-soaked face. “Does he have a pretty cock? Did you suck it?”
“Yes, fuck, yes.” Peter remembered Neal’s cock in his hand, slim, hard, satin and smooth. Remembered palming it, licking it into his mouth, enjoying the hard length as it nudged the back of his throat. Remembered how Neal had whined and pleaded as his hips danced, desperate for more and now. He growled as Elizabeth clenched down on him, knowing she was close. He was too.
“I want to see you suck him while I fuck him,” he growled into her ear, making her gasp and groan this time. Letting his fantasy become verbal reality, just as his wife had trusted him with hers. “I want to watch as he makes love to you, want you to come apart in his hands, under his mouth, around his cock. Then I want to fuck you both.”
She shattered in his arms as he did in hers.
Later, when they both came down from the sexual high, Peter turned to his wife and said, “Were we serious?”
“About being together? All of us?”
Elizabeth stared into his eyes, he didn’t know what she found there, but she smiled. “I think you know the answer to that.”
Peter was afraid he did.
Peter stared at Neal on the other side of the door. “What are you . . .”
“I forgot I grabbed these?” Neal sheepishly held up the contents of the safety box.
He wasn’t quite ready to deal with Neal, but he couldn’t leave him standing outside, so he gestured the other man in. He and Elizabeth had only barely skimmed the top of their talk about bringing Neal into their relationship. He refused to call it a threesome, because the word did not imply permanence, and Peter knew that he could never do anything casual when it came to his wife and Neal.
“Did you tell her?” Neal whispered, sending slivers of lust down his spine.
Peter could only nod.
“How did she take it?” More whispers, more warm breath breathed upon his ear, more lust building. Neal would be lucky to escape unscathed before they had their talk. He vaguely wondered if the nanites were still in his system.
“Fine,” he bit out, taking steps to get away from temptation before he succumbed. He almost did when he saw the disappointment marring Neal’s lovely face. “Honey, Neal brought your necklace.”
Neal probably knew something was up the second Elizabeth beamed at him with a smile that was filled to the brim with anticipation and lust.
“Elizabeth, hi.” Neal, unsurprisingly, covered well. He acted as if nothing was wrong by kissing the cheek Elizabeth presented to him and then flourished her necklace.
“Thank you, darling.” Elizabeth took it, but merely placed it on the table before turning back to Neal. “So, how did you like sex with Peter?”
“El!” Peter could feel his cheeks heating, but damn them, Elizabeth and Neal both grinned at each other before turning those devilish grins on him.
“It was amazing,” Neal murmured, grin turning into a soft smile as he remembered.
Peter shifted uncomfortably, his pants tightening.
“Good,” Elizabeth stated with a satisfied nod, draping herself along Neal’s side, she gazed up into his face, carefully watching his expressions. “Would you be interested in doing it again? A lot more? And possibly with me watching and participating?”
Damn Neal, he didn’t even look surprised. Flattered and happy, but not surprised, as he wound an arm around her slim waist, a hand possessively cupping her hip. “I would love to.”
Hours passed in a blur of hands, mouths, kisses, caresses, sweat and sex. Peter would later remember the feelings rather than the actions. The feel of Elizabeth’s woman soft skin against the youthful, pliant give of Neal’s; how his body craved both, found them perfect compliments of each other. Remembered kisses that took his breath away and brought him to full life, learned by heart the feel of two bodies curled close.
Peter panted, completely uncaring about the wreckage of the bed or the whines that could be heard from outside the bedroom. By herself, Elizabeth was a demanding lover, but teamed up with Neal, they were devastating. He knew he wouldn’t be doing anything remotely productive for the rest of the night.
“Can I tell Mozzie and June?” Neal murmured from somewhere near his shoulder.
Peter rolled his eyes, grunted, “Haversham will probably want to run his own tests. Hell, he’ll probably bring the biggest needle he can find for me.”
Elizabeth giggled into his side. Neal just grinned.
Peter barely reached the phone in time the next morning. “Hello?” he muttered, not caring one whit that he sounded just as sleep- and sex-dazed as he was.
“Peter, it’s John. Good news, man! You’re not bonded.”
Peter blinked up at the bedroom ceiling. He wasn’t sure how to feel about that, but wasn’t too worried. Even without the excuse of the Cupid’s Arrow gas, Neal was with them to stay.
“Yeah, thanks John. Thanks for keeping this quiet.”
“No problem, man. Listen, I gotta get back to work, but we’ll catch up this weekend, okay?”
“Yeah, sounds good.” Peter hung up after their goodbyes.
“Honey? Who was that?”
Peter kissed the top of his wife’s head where it was pillowed on his right shoulder. “It was John. He said Neal and I aren’t bonded.”
Neal nuzzled into that little spot behind his left ear. “That doesn’t mean we still can’t have sex whenever we want, right?”
Peter’s answer wasn’t verbal at all.
When Neal told June, he got exactly what he expected from her: a big congratulatory smile and a big, warm hug.
And, like always, he let his curiosity get the better of him. “So, did you and Bryon ever?”
She merrily laughed. “Neal, darling, my husband and I went through the seventies together, but I was much too possessive to ever share my Bryon with anyone.”
He grinned, understanding completely. He was only willing to share Peter, because he was just as attracted to Elizabeth. He knew he didn’t love her, not yet, anyway, but he could easily see her filling that hole that Kate had left. The rest of him was already filled to the brim with Peter.
When he told Mozzie, he got the complete opposite.
Neal blinked. “Good?”
“Is there an echo in here?” Mozzie poured himself a glass of red, settling himself comfortably on the couch.
“Moz,” Neal sank down to join him, gulping the rest of his red out of sheer surprise. “Moz, are you saying you’re okay with Peter and me?”
Mozzie rolled his eyes. “Please, Neal, I know you think you’re this great, inscrutable con artist, but I saw this coming from a hundred miles away.”
Mozzie nodded, sipping. “Of course, I thought you’d be more proactive about seducing them, but sex pollen works too.”
Neal declined to ask what “sex pollen” was; he really didn’t want to know.
“Thankfully, the pros outweigh the cons: you’re with a suit, but now you’re less likely to go running off and doing something profoundly stupid in regards to Kate.” Mozzie gave him a look that clearly said everything he’d thought about Neal and his quests for Kate.
Neal could only pat his best friend on his shoulder, even knowing that with Peter in his life, with Elizabeth as an added bonus, he still thought about Kate.
Three Months Later . . .
Neal woke to a burning pain searing through his body. Gasping, arching into the pain, he barely managed to hit the panic button Mozzie had installed after Neal moved into June’s house. His body felt like it was being torn apart from the inside out.
“Neal? What’s wrong?” An eternity later, his friend’s face swam into view.
He couldn’t answer, shaking his head, trying to find clarity amongst the pain.
“He’s running a fever.” June’s cool hand upon his forehead didn’t help.
“The Suit’s been gone for how long?”
“Three days? Maybe four?” Was that Elizabeth?
“It’s the Cupid’s Arrow gas, it has to be.”
“But their tests came up negative!”
“My granddaughter says he has all of the symptoms of going through Arrow withdrawal.”
“God, Peter.” El? Why did she sound so panicked?
“We need get them together.”
“But the anklet?”
“I knew I shouldn’t have let Neal give the key back to Mr. Suit.”
The sensation of movement was lost amongst the pain, but he knew the feel of a road passing under a car. Then there was the weight of gravity, agonizing in its pull, as he rose and rose, but never above the hurt. Finally, they stopped.
“I’m his wife! I know the room number, just let us in!”
“Agent Burke could be dying, if we’re wrong, you may call the police, if you’d like.” June’s imperious voice cut through his dazed pain.
Lips pressed to his, weakly nudging them open. Unglorious gravity dropped his saliva into the waiting mouth below, even as a wet tongue pushed into his.
Burning pain receded, replaced by the soothing heat of desire.
Neal grabbed at Peter’s face and shoulders, desperate for his lover. Arched into Peter’s hands as they cupped his hips and pulled, friction and heat, sweet fire that banished agony. Bodies moved, a door closed, slim hands eased their clothes away from their bodies. Not caring about such miniscule pain, Neal impaled himself, unprepared, onto Peter’s cock, hissing but loving it, needing him now, now, now. Peter came with a moan, Neal was so close, but those once helpful slim fingers turned evil, wrapping around the base of his cock and stopping his beautiful, necessary orgasm.
“Peter, suck him, honey.”
Sweet, sweet heat, perfect suction was all that it took.
“So,” Elizabeth murmured into his still sex-soaked skin. “I think John may have made a mistake when he said your tests came back negative.”
Peter grunted, pulling Neal’s practically comatose body closer. He wrapped an equally possessive arm around his wife. He would never forget the agony that had ripped through him until Elizabeth had burst into his hotel room, Mozzie, June, and a nearly unconscious Neal in tow. He barely had the strength to kiss his lover, knowing that exchanging the nanites through their saliva was enough to stop the poisonous kamikaze breakdown of the machines. “Mozzie broke Neal’s anklet, didn’t he?”
“We had to,” she defended.
He patted her hip, knowing it was true. But he still wasn’t looking forward to smoothing this all over with Hughes and the rest of the brass.
Hughes glared. “You told me, when the local PD called to ask why you fled the scene of a crime without reporting it, you told me you were embarrassed. Horrified for cheating on your wife.”
Peter opened his mouth. He had been dreading this interview from the moment he made that phone call from D.C. Even with the affirmation that Caffrey hadn’t turned rabbit, that he was there with him, in D.C., hadn’t truly reassured Hughes and they had been summarily ordered home.
“You told me that the horror kept you from thinking straight and reporting the robbery! You told me you were disgusted with yourself for having sex with a co-worker and confidential informant! You told me you were angry at yourself for breaking Bureau rules!”
Peter nodded, since they were all true. He opened his mouth again.
“You told me you weren’t bonded to him!”
Peter waited this time, making sure his boss had vented everything. “I thought so too. My doctor thinks there was a mix-up at the lab. I had him redo the test,” he held up a hand to forestall the next question, “and had a Bureau doctor run the test too. They both came out positive.”
Hughes slumped into his chair, fingers rubbing into both temples. “Jesus, Peter.”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
Hughes grunted, back on his feet and pacing, thinking. “Well, at least your ass is safe, thanks to all of the precedence of previous attacks of the Cupid’s Arrow gas.” Then he blinked. “Wait. The attack at the bank happened three months ago.” He trailed off, old blue eyes still sharp, just like his mind. “Wait a minute.”
Peter braced himself.
“You’ve been . . . He’s . . . You two . . .” Hughes was red and incoherent. That wasn’t a good sign. No, sir. Not at all. “Elizabeth . . .”
“We’re. . .” Peter trailed off, unable to really say the words to his boss, despite living the reality for the last three months. Instead, he made vague hand gestures that seemed to convey what he couldn’t say.
Hughes thumped back into his chair, still staring. “I would have never thought you were that progressive, Peter.”
He huffed a laugh. “Neither did I, sir.”
“They could break up your team. Give him to another supervising agent.”
“With all due respect, sir,” Peter interjected, knowing exactly what would happen if Neal was under supervision that didn’t fully understand his talents or his needs. It would be a nightmare of epic proportions: Neal needed just enough rope to feel the adrenaline rush and to do what he needed, but no other agent would give it to him. Neal would then have to take the rope he wanted, instead of needed, and everything would blow up in their faces. “We’ve been together for three months, has anyone noticed anything? Has our closure rate dropped? Any inappropriate behavior or favoritism?”
Hughes took a long time to answer, as if thinking over every single day since the incident. “I haven’t noticed anything.”
Peter slumped in relief.
“But then again, I haven’t been looking.”
Peter just managed to not glare at his boss.
Hughes smirked at him, but then sobered. “There’s precedent for this. Caffrey would answer directly to me when it comes to annual reviews, etc., but he would be your responsibility in the field.”
“We can live with that, sir,” Peter carefully agreed. Something told him that his boss was labeling the whole thing as “Burke was hit by Cupid’s Arrow, he’s doing what any sane man who wants to live would do.” As good as Hughes was about seeing outside the box, the one labeled “sexuality” probably wasn’t one of them. It was as if for a split second, Hughes acknowledged that Peter had feelings for Neal and acted upon them, but then the next moment, everything could be blamed on the gas. Peter knew he would have to make sure that he painted everything about his and Elizabeth’s relationship with Neal in a Cupid’s Arrow light to alleviate any possible problems between them and his boss.
Hughes snorted. “You’ll have to.
Peter knew his team’s ignorance couldn’t last forever, but he never thought anything as innocuous as coffee would be what gave them away.
Keeping his relationship with Neal from the rest of the office had been easy enough, especially since Neal was always in his personal space from the get-go. Neal didn’t know the first thing about personal space in regards to most people, so his increased touchy-feeliness went unremarked by everyone. And since Peter didn’t feel uptight about the invasion of his personal space – and don’t ask him why he wasn’t, he just wasn’t – they maintained the image of close partners easily.
So, of course, it was his actions that outed them to Diana and Jones.
He had been so absorbed with the case file that when Neal materialized by his side with a cup of coffee, Peter thought nothing of it to take the cup, peck him on the lips, and said, “Thanks, Neal.”
He only realized what he had done when he felt his lover shaking with mirth.
Thinking back, if he had used an endearment instead of Neal’s name, he could have played it off. But he hadn’t. He had been very careful these last few months to acknowledge his lover, even for little things, just to let him know he was as appreciated and loved as Elizabeth. Their relationship had started off because of emotions; Elizabeth had made him realize how much Neal was already a part of their lives and how much he cared for the other man. But when they had found out about the bonding, Neal began drawing away; afraid that the only reason Peter had wanted him was because of the Cupid’s Arrow gas. So, Peter had made it a point to shower both his wife and his lover with equal amounts of attention. It made for a less restless Neal and a pleased Elizabeth.
So, he turned to his team. Diana was beaming with a knowing glint in her eyes. Jones was blinking and obviously still processing.
Peter decided to lay the cards out. “Yes, he’s my lover. Yes, El knows. Everything’s fine, let’s focus on the case.”
Diana had the temerity to snort, of course. “Oh no, boss, you don’t get to throw a bomb like that and get away with just three sentences.”
He knew he wasn’t going to get away it, but he had to try. He waved Neal towards the other two, closing the conference room door as he fled to his office.
Neal grinned at Diana and Clinton as he made himself comfortable in a chair at the head of the table. Usually, it was Peter’s seat, but he felt, because his lover left him to face the firing squad by himself, he could take this little liberty.
Faced with their expectant expressions, he spun their tale of arrows and Elizabeth’s open heart and Peter’s amazing ability to love.
At the end, Diana turned her grinned on Clinton, hand out. “Pay up.”
Grumbling, Clinton slapped a twenty into her hand. “I was sure Peter would never --”
“Oh please, the energy between the two of them could light up Times Square.” She smirked at Neal. “I know you hate clichés --”
“But I love the classics.” Neal grinned back at her, obviously his and Peter’s relationship wouldn’t be a problem for the two of them, but then frowned. “Hey! Why didn’t you include me in the bet?”
They both rolled their eyes.
Yeah, he had to give them that one. “Was anyone else in on the bet?”
Diana shook her head. “We’d thought it would be best to keep it amongst ourselves.”
“Yeah,” Clinton agreed. “After all, we’re the only ones we know, other than you and Mrs. Burke, who’d do anything for Peter.”
Neal nodded. After all, Diana somehow managed to heist the music box and Clinton had helped Peter get away during the Franklin investigation. It didn’t surprise him one bit that Clinton and Diana were so readily accepting. First off, Diana was gay, so nontraditional relationships weren’t new to her. Clinton, on the other hand, just seemed like a guy who was ready to let others live how they pleased . . . as long as they weren’t breaking laws. And even then, he was very willing to go into the dark gray areas. He absently wondered how Cruz would have taken the news that Peter was in a threesome relationship. Honestly, he thought her brain might explode. A good thing she wasn’t around anymore.
Christmas with the Families
Peter stared at the edifice of his family home in Connecticut. Snow fell all around them, giving everything that White Christmas look that couldn’t be faked by the best decorators in New York City. Cars filled the street; plenty of his parents’ neighbors were having their own families over for the holidays. It was two days until Christmas, but as with every year, his family had their celebrations early so that the various in-laws could have their celebrations on Christmas.
“Guys, we don’t have to do this.” Neal was in the back seat with Elizabeth, helping her hold onto her famous eggnog, the delicious smell of rums and liqueurs wafting off the frothy peaks, and his garbure soup, thick with meat, beans, and seasonal vegetables.
“You’re part of this family,” Elizabeth said, her hand covering his. “If this is making you uncomfortable, then the choice is up to you, but either way, we’re going to get through this together.”
Her words made the tension in his chest ease. His wife was right. If they, if he, wanted this relationship to work – forget the stupid nanites – if their lives were ever going to intertwine with something other than responsibility and duty, then they would have to be part of each other’s lives. “Come on, Neal, there are some people I want you to meet.”
Neal charmed Peter’s mother, uncles and aunts, and his older brother, knowing they were giving each other confused looks as to why he had been invited to their family gathering. He had to smother a grin when he overheard Peter’s mother speculate if they had brought him to fix up with Peter’s niece. Elizabeth, on the other hand, couldn’t keep a straight face and ran for the bathroom. Between watching her run for it, and keeping an eye out for the niece, he didn’t get a chance to warn Peter.
The next few moments of his life were priceless.
“Peter,” Joy, his sister-in-law gushed, “he’s gorgeous! And charming and smart! If they get married, I’ll make sure she names their first boy after you!”
Peter stared at her, cup of eggnog frozen inches from his lips. “Who? What?”
“Oh, don’t play coy,” Joy gushed some more. “Neal and Colleen! He’s perfect for her! I’m so glad you thought to introduce them!”
The eggnog Peter had just sipped came back up in a sputtering mess. “Wait, what? Neal? Colleen? What?”
Joy blinked at him, confusion setting in. “You did bring Neal to introduce to Colleen, right?”
“I brought Neal to introduce him to the whole family,” Peter growled.
Neal ducked his head when he felt those dark eyes lasering in on him, but he hid the smile too late. The laser glare only left when Elizabeth emerged from the hallway. From the way she froze, the way her eyes went from Peter to Joy, and the way her lips kicked up before being ruthlessly stilled, then helplessly kicking upwards again, told him everything. Neal hurried to her side, grabbed her around the waist and hustled them both into the bathroom just in time to collapse into a pile of giggles.
“He’s going to kill us,” she hiccupped between laughs.
He could only press his face into her neck and shake.
Peter glared at the hallway that led to the guest bathroom. He glared until he was sure his eyeballs would pop out.
He sighed. By now everyone, all of the adults at least, were staring at him. Still glaring at the hallway, he began to multitask: one half of his brain was rehearsing his speech to his family, the other half was plotting his revenge on Neal and Elizabeth.
“Peter?” his mother asked again, a frown starting to mar her still lovely face.
“I brought Neal to introduce to everyone,” he said again, this time to his entire audience. Surveying his family, he just knew how this was going to go, how everyone was going to react. After all, he was the only law enforcement officer to catch the brilliant Neal Caffrey, not once, but twice. “Elizabeth and I have brought Neal into our relationship.”
He watched as people started working that out. And just like well rehearsed actors, they all did exactly what he thought they would. His mother sank slowly into her favorite armchair, a hand on her chest, the other worrying her necklace as she digested this information. His uncles and aunts were all exclaiming their disbelief and fluttering around his mother. His brother was gobsmacked-still, his wife not much better. Their daughter, Colleen, had a flash of disappointment before she grinned mischievously at him. Her brother was laughing and whispering something that made both of them offer him bows. Peter shook his head at their antics. His cousins’ reactions varied from impressed to open condemnation. Peter mentally rolled his eyes. He saw them once a year, big whoop if they didn’t like the way he lived his life.
“Listen,” he knew he would have to play this card, just to keep the peace in his family, “if it makes you feel any better, we were hit with the Cupid’s Arrow gas and we’re bonded.”
Instantly, the mood amongst his contemporaries and the elders switched directions. Just like he knew it would. This they could accept, this had precedence. While some of them might not be happy about it, current history showed that there was nothing one could do about a Cupid’s Arrow bond. Just like Hughes, they wrote off his and Neal’s relationship as something forced by the nanites when it was more than that.
Peter mentally shrugged. Whatever helped them accept Neal was fine by him. He, Neal, and Elizabeth knew their relationship was more than the result of nanites, and that was all that was important to them.
Just like he knew they would, Elizabeth’s family took the announcement with nary more than a blink of an eye. Her parents were hippies, her grandmother had burned her bra, right alongside her daughters. Her sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins had all been to at least one protest rally, and more than half of them had the rap sheets to prove it. Elizabeth’s uncle Josiah still had an illegal patch of marijuana he grew for recreational purposes. Hell, his status as an FBI agent had been more of a negative than a positive in his courtship of her!
Neal – con artist, free spirit, and world traveler extraordinaire – had been more welcomed than he was the first time he was introduced to Elizabeth’s parents!
Peter sat back and watched as his wife, the most conservative and least bohemian of her family, waltzed Neal from one family member to the next. Neal was smiling and charming, but he could see the attention was starting to overwhelm the younger man. Just when it became too much, Elizabeth steered them both over to Peter’s couch.
“Here, honey, your turn to have him.” She leaned over to kiss his lips. “By the way, your credentials just skyrocketed in the family.”
Peter blinked, even as he settled Neal into the curve of his body. He glanced around and sure enough, members of Elizabeth’s family who had given him the polite, if cold shoulder, previously, were now beaming at him. Elizabeth’s fraternal twin sisters, younger than she by five years, were now smiling and waving any time he happened to make eye contact. Before he and Elizabeth had been married, the two of them had schemed to get rid of him like they were Haley Mills in The Parent Trap.
Gentle shaking against his side brought his attention back to Neal. He quirked an eyebrow. “What?”
“You were the bad boy they didn’t want their daughter bringing home?” Neal’s eyes were sparkling with laughter, his beautiful mouth full and curved and begging for a kiss.
Peter ducked his head to give him that asked for kiss. Just to stop that line of questioning of course.
Neal stared down at the larger-than-average crib. The babies inside were so tiny. He’d never been so close to such tiny human beings before. And the fact that one of them was his was more than mind-boggling. He had been living with Peter and Elizabeth for nearly a year now. After they had come clean with Hughes and Bankcroft and all of the other brass, the FBI had added Peter and he to a list of those affected by the Cupid’s Arrow gas and made all the necessary arrangements to make life for both of them much easier. Neal felt the need to worship the female scientist who had developed the gas – but as of yet, had not found the cure – because six months ago, Elizabeth had come downstairs with a positive pregnancy test.
Peter’s face had been in turns: scared then astonished then so filled with love it lit up his whole being. Neal had been in turns: astonished then terrified then jealous. He felt left out when Peter carefully swept his wife up into a gentle, giant hug, but then Peter had reeled Neal into their hug and said, “Neal, if one day the kid tells me he learned how to forge a Van Gogh from his papa, I’m not going to be happy.”
Elizabeth had cracked up, but those words had settled something deep inside Neal. Later, they would find out that twins really did run in Elizabeth’s family, but it wasn’t until after their births, that the DNA tests revealed that one of the beautiful babies was his. Neal reached out to touch Nicholas’ curled hand, so small and soft, it could barely wrap around his entire finger. The baby’s dark hair was wispy and silky, his electric blue eyes were coyly blinking and his cupid’s bow of a mouth was curved into an enticing smile. Nicholas had been born first, Elizabeth laughed, because he was eager to experience the world, like his father.
His twin brother, Philip, on the other hand, was Peter through and through. No nonsense dark hair lay straight, but was smooth to the touch, and his eyes were as dark as Peter’s and just as assessing and watchful. Philip was younger by five minutes, but already he was protective of his older brother. Every time anyone came near the two of them, Philip’s eyes would instantly be on them. The lines of his little mouth were stern, but they softened whenever one of his three parents held him or whenever they fell on his twin. Both of them were baby round and cherub chubby. Neal’s fingers itched for charcoal and paper, not for the first time. His drawings and paintings had been a tremendous hit with all of the extended families. He gave his other forefinger to Philip, smiling softly as the baby carefully considered it before taking it.
Warm hands cupped his hips, a tall, hard body surrounded him, and a chin propped itself on his shoulder. A softer body was pressed beside the both of them. He tilted his head, falling into Peter’s gentle kiss. Pulling out of that kiss, he fell into another beside him, tasting Elizabeth’s sweeter lips.
“They’re beautiful,” Peter murmured to them both, dark eyes so filled with his heart as he gazed at the babies.
“And they’re ours!” Elizabeth was jubilant. Motherhood agreed with her just as much as being a loving spouse and successful businesswoman.
Neal manipulated both his hands to leave his fingers in the babies’ clutches, but so that he also held onto their tiny hands. “Ours,” he agreed, but privately, he thought ‘mine,’ not only about the children, but of this man and this woman. A year and a half ago, when the gas changed his life, Mozzie had told him that this relationship with Peter and Elizabeth was a good thing. They would keep him from doing something stupid for Kate and give him the real love he so desperately thought she represented. Back then, he had privately disagreed.
But now, staring down at the two perfect, little babies and staring up at the two perfect lovers, Neal knew Mozzie had been right all along.